Londonderry’s system of governance tends to come off as a double-edged sword at times. Having volunteers throughout the town fill various positions on numerous commissions, residents often get the sense that these individuals have only their best interests in mind.
However, utilizing volunteers who may not have experience in government, particularly on how to effectively run meetings, tends to open up the possibility for negative consequences, including potential backlash from fellow citizens.
In order to make sure these volunteers are prepared to handle the rigors of these positions in the future, the town held a presentation on June 22 to educate them on state Right-to-Know laws and the means to effectively handling public meetings.
This is not the first time such a presentation has been held. Typically, the town attorney would handle the proceedings. However, with the recent hiring of Assistant Town Manager Lisa Drabik, her prior legal experience made her the better economical choice to present, as the town attorney is paid by the hour for his services.
Drabik took things a step further at the meeting. As Londonderry is a member of the New Hampshire Municipal Association, the town has access to the services of their legal counsel, namely having a representative sent to Londonderry who is well-versed in handling public meetings.
The representative, Stephen Buckley, ended up taking charge of the June 22 presentation, with 30 years of legal experience and a dozen years on a planning board to assist Londonderry’s residents. When asked about the choice to utilize Buckley’s expertise, Town Council Chair Tom Dolan noted that it is “something the council believes is going to be worthwhile.”
Roughly the first half of the presentation was focused on the legal ramifications surrounding public meetings, teaching the volunteers about the state’s Right-to-Know law, the difference between meetings and hearings, and the general “do’s and don’ts” of handling effective meetings.
A large focus was also placed on how the public perceives a board or commission’s actions throughout meetings. Buckley emphasized that maintaining a respectful appearance and a good sense of decorum are keys to keeping both citizens and fellow volunteers content, noting that one should avoid spending time on personal electronic devices and keeping calm when dealing with difficult public commenters.
The meeting itself was attended by dozens of members of the town’s government, including several town councilors, Roger Fillio with the Conservation Commission, Mary Wing Soares with the Planning Board, and Paul Margolin with the Solid Waste and Environment Committee.
Before Buckley began his presentation, Dolan spoke before those in attendance to give his thoughts on the presentation, telling the audience just how important a well-run meeting is to the town and that they “could not run New Hampshire local government without volunteers.”